Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Ever since the Union Leader ran a front-page story last week about the problems we've had building our new house (if you missed it, go to www.unionleader.com and click on "prior editions" then enter January 30), with a photo of me sitting surrounded by water in our basement, people have been asking me if we've fixed the flooding problem yet.

In a word…no.

It's not that the new perimeter drains we had installed a few months ago are faulty. They're just frozen.

Drainage was no problem in warmer weather when the open ends of the three drainage pipes were visible and I could keep them cleaned out and flowing into their respective ditches. But now they are buried beneath snow…and I have no idea where the openings are.

So a couple weeks ago, when I heard that torrential rains were headed this way, I panicked. I figured I had no choice other than to find the ends of the pipes and somehow open them. Even if they turned out to have more ice in them than the iceberg that sank the Titanic, I was determined to clear out those pipes

I grabbed the snow shovel and started to dig, moving a few feet forward at a time. That's when I came to a huge pile of snow-turned-to-ice that the snow plow had left behind. From what I could calculate, the ice mountain was sitting right on top of the main drainage pipe.

I found the ice chopper and started to hack away, all the while hoping I wouldn't chop through any vital piece of hardware. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear. After an hour of serious chopping, there still was a good foot of ice on the ground.

I chopped until I no longer could feel my arms, then decided to throw in the towel and use my backup plan. I went back inside, grabbed my trusty giant roll of duct tape and headed down to the basement.

"What are you going to do with that?" my husband asked. Years of living with me had taught him that I whenever I reached for duct tape, something that would require him to either run for shelter or don a safety helmet was about to happen.

"I'm going to duct tape all of the cracks in the basement walls so the water can't come in when it rains tomorrow!"

He gave me an unmistakable "you can't be serious" look.

But I was very serious. In the past, I had used duct tape for everything from hemming my raincoat to holding up the air conditioner in the kitchen window, so I saw no reason why I couldn't use it to seal cracks in concrete.

The first basement crack I tackled was the King Kong of all cracks, the one that a river of water usually flowed through whenever it rained. I slapped enough duct tape over it to support a human body.

As I moved on to the next crack, I cast an evil look at the sump-pump drain. The contractor had installed it in a far corner at the highest point of the basement. By the time the water rose high enough to reach that corner, the rest of the basement would look like Captain Nemo's underwater-adventure ride at Disney World.

"Well, everything is sealed with duct tape!" I announced when I came back upstairs. "I'm ready for the downpour!"

"What happens if the water backs up until it makes the duct tape bulge out and then pop off the wall?" my husband asked. "It will be like a fire hose blasting water. The 'duct' in duct tape doesn't stand for 'aqueduct,' you know."

Just to be safe, I went back down to the basement and built a small dam around the base of the biggest problem crack, using boards, cinder blocks and a plastic tarp. I was ready.

For once, the weather forecasters were right. The rain arrived with a vengeance. Throughout the day, I kept running down to the basement to check on my duct tape. Everything was holding. The basement was dry.

Four hours later, with the rain still showing no signs of letting up, the basement remained dry. I was ready to declare a duct-tape victory.

Then it happened. The tape on the monster crack began to get soggy and loosen around the edges. Water began to pour out from the base of it and spread out onto the tarp in my makeshift dam. I tried to re-tape everything, but the wall was too damp.

Luckily, my dam held. By the time the rain ended, I had a nice little enclosed pond down there. And I had managed to keep the water from ruining any of my prized possessions stored in the basement, like my dancing Jar-Jar Binks figure or my Hunka-Hunka Burning Elvis doll.

"You know," I said to my husband, "if duct tape worked on those cracks and kept the basement dry for a few hours, why wouldn't a professional crack sealer work?"

Granted, I previously had sprayed some sealers down there, but they were concrete pore-sealers, not specifically for cracks.

He shrugged. "Can't hurt to call someone for an estimate, I guess."

So I decided to go straight to the source. I called Mike, the guy who'd originally poured the foundation. He came over the next day.

"You sure have a lot of cracks down here," he said, his gaze lingering on the King Kong crack. He then walked over to the corner of the basement where the floor slowly has been cracking and sinking. "Hate to say it, but you may have to have the whole foundation dug up to prevent any future structural problems."

"Will it cost more than $100?" I asked. "Because that's all I have."

He shook his head and laughed. "I guess we'll try sealing the cracks first then, and see what happens."

"Will that cost more than $100?" I repeated.

"The sealer's actually pretty cheap – only about $20," he said.

So now I'm waiting for Mike to return and attack the cracks. And I'm praying it won't rain again till then.

But just in case it does, I'm going to stock up on duct tape…and maybe buy some tropical fish.